Women are generally regarded as great multi-taskers and this skill tends to improve as we become mothers. We bounce the baby on our hip while listening to our friend's sob story over the phone, make dinner, and clean the kitchen floor. We're probably checking Facebook and responding to an email in the same 5 minutes as well.
The problem is, while this may make us uber-efficient workhorses, it rarely results in genuine quality time with our children. And if there is one thing I am certain of as a parent, it is that children absolutely desire personal, face-to-face, focused attention. They instantly know if your time (and, by extension, your affection) is being divided. And they will do anything to get you to look at them rather than the [phone, computer, television, cleaning rag...]!
So, despite my internal tendency towards juggling seven responsibilities at once, I have made some very practical - and what I have deemed, necessary - choices about laying aside multi-tasking in order to prioritize my child.
Turn off techonology. When I'm with Maren, I make a concerted effort NOT to check email, Facebook, or text messages. I don't answer my phone unless it's my husband or I have the time to actually talk to the person calling. For me, I need to consciously avoid technology or else I begin to think that it's more important - in the moment - to deal with an email rather than dance in the living room with my daughter.
Avoid tasks. When Maren is awake, she gets my time. Which means that I usually save washing dishes, folding laundry, and other household chores until she's asleep. If we make a mess together, then we clean it up, and, as she gets older, I expect to involve her in general cleaning (such as after meals), but for the most part, I don't do tasks when we're together. I never want my kid to think that I'd rather deal with a pile of dirty dishes instead of get down on the floor and push trains around with her.
Listen attentively. As much as possible, I look straight at Maren when she talks. Which, right now, is almost constantly. If we're in different rooms and I hear her voice, I ask her to come speak to me directly (or I go in to her). Even though I can hear her while I'm typing, texting, or cooking, I am not giving her my full attention unless our eyes meet. Then she knows that I value what she's saying, neither of us gets frustrated with the conversation, and we can experience total joy in a shared moment. This works especially well when she is upset about something. If I pause, hold her, and listen to the emotions she is expressing, we can quickly overcome whiny, complaining outbursts. This makes for a happy mama and child.
Communicate directly. If I need to focus my attention on other things, I let Maren know first. I explain what I am doing and why I need to take care of it at that time. I ask her not to interrupt and expect her to wait patiently until I can return my focus to her. This helps her understand that I haven't forgotten her and that she will receive my attention soon. I think it also teaches her how to communicate to me what is important to her.
When in Doubt, Choose the Kid. My to-do list can get awfully long. There is never enough time in the day for everything I want to do. But there is no doubt in my mind that Maren is the absolute best use of my energy. She will only be in this moment, at this age, for a fleeting blink. She has the pure joy of childhood right now - the hopeful expectation of each new day, the wonder at every new discovery, the unconditional love of being with her Mama. Why would I ever choose a stinky toilet or an electronic message over HER?!?
What about you? Do you think multi-tasking as a parent actually works? Or what other tricks do you have to show your child(ren) that they have first priority on your time?